In Chapter 15 of Ticket to Ride, Morgan finds himself in the town of Lagos, Portugal; frustrated in his search for beauty and truth:
“Once, I wandered around the entire diameter of the town trying to picture it when all that existed was the part of it contained within the old walls; very insular and very much counter to modern sprawl. The new architecture outside of the center was some bastardized, watered down, low-budget version of true workmanship.”
“You just shouldn’t f___ with perfection,” I said to a couple of tourists, snapping away with their camera, she, in a flowery summer dress and a floppy hat and he, in loose trousers, a sport shirt and loafers.
They looked startled, as if I’d woken them up.
“What d’ya mean then?” the guy replied, with an English accent.
“Within the walls there was a plan. Outside it’s just sprawl… f___ing sprawl… should’ve just left it alone.”
The guy furrowed his brow, “Been to Mulligan’s Pub then?,” changing the subject.
“I know, accentuate the positive… when life hands you lemons…“
“Make lemonade,” the girl finished, sneaking a smile, “have you been to Mulligan’s?”
“… pucker and frown first, it makes your sugar-driven smile so much the sweeter…” I said to the girl.
“But about Mulligan’s,” said the guy, getting impatient.
“… and when you laugh,” I said, looking now at the guy, “try not to feel like a jackass or a mindless hyena.”
“Look mate, I just asked about Mulligan’s.”
“Place is like flypaper.”
“Right then, cheers.”
“See ya ‘round.” I said smiling.
They walked away, looked at each other incredulously, exchanged a few words, looked back at me, and quickened their pace.
I turned away and walked along the main street which lead out of town and into the orange groves. There were workmen there, tapping stones into the dirt, one by one, making a sidewalk in the old manner. The sun was hot on their backs and the care they took in placing each stone seemed to me to be somehow honorable and charming but very tedious and tiring at the same time. They were dressed in heavy canvas work clothes and were sweating heavily. The whole thing led to what would be some big resort. If the charm of the town wasn’t dead already, it would be soon. These guys would never stay there. Lucky if they could afford a drink there. [end of excerpt]
Something of an antiquarian, Morgan sees very little in the modern world that appeals to his aesthetic sensibility. It was in this vein that I wrote the following short piece for a local newspaper a while back. And it is because I share this sentiment with Morgan that I enjoy visiting the nearby city of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has managed to fuse the old with the new in a manner that celebrates the old while gently incorporating the new. It has a center at State Street, and from there, continues in all directions like reflective ripples from a fountain.
A Retreat from the Desolation of Urban America
by philip scott wikel
In days of old, architecture was considered one of the fine arts. One’s home, one’s church and even one’s place of employ could be looked at with a sense of pride and appreciation of the human ability to create beauty out of lumber, stone, concrete or brick. One’s eyes would first be drawn to the foundation and then up along its facade, then still higher to it’s roof line. People would stand in awe and reverence because buildings could be seen as the tangible equivalent of poetry. And then came the utlitarianism of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. And now, when one drives down a street like Thompson Boulevard in mid-town Ventura, the stark, square, stuccoed ugliness repels the eye and the soul and one is inclined to push harder on the gas pedal in a retreat from the desolation of urban America.
Note: I wrote this about 7 or 8 years ago and have since seen, what I feel, is something of a general improvement in community architectural projects. Even so, I believe there’s still a great deal of room for the improvement of our public places. Much like us, our towns and cities need a center. And out from there a homogenous whole. Homogeneity often creates harmony, and we could use a little harmony now and then.
A Final note:
While I loved Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and the celebration of the independent spirit embodied in her protagonist Howard Roark, it might be time to try to get back to a collective vision of beauty. That, of course, is only possible if we haven’t already strayed so far from traditional beauty as to be able to agree on what form it may take. Nature and Natural Forms might be a good start. Nature doesn’t try to be beautiful, it just is. We could use something we can all agree upon nowadays.
What do you think? I’d love to hear it.